Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals Move To EPR And Digital Working




Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust (SWBH) has recently embarked on a significant digital transformation project

The aim in healthcare is for patient care to be provided seamlessly and with continuity across any combination of service providers – from acute and mental health Trusts to community GP practices and pop-up clinics all the way out to caregivers out in the field.

Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust (SWBH) is a busy, multi-site organisation. In the past financial year alone, it handled 199,437 attendances at A&E, 650,000 community contacts and 526,945 out-patient appointments. Clearly, information and its correct routing matters a great deal at SWBH. To put that in context: in the month of January 2017 alone, the Trust moved no fewer than 35,000 individual patient records around the institution.

SWBH has recently introduced a digital content management approach to medical records, aiming to make sharing medical data easier and more practical. The approach uses a content management platform from Alfresco, while being implemented and project managed by SynApps Solutions.

The Trust’s chief informatics officer, Mark Reynolds, explains some of the motivation behind the project. “We’re helping make information sharing a lot smoother via a set of changes that will eventually get us to a full EPR (electronic patient record). That’s going to happen in 2018, and it will set us up for the opening of new facilities the year after. However, what we are currently engaged in is a move to an increasingly paperless way of working to help build the foundations for that future.”

The trust is currently digitising the new documents that come through its doors. “This isn’t a project about making all of our archives paperless, but a way to make the Trust more nimble and EPR-ready,” adds Reynolds.

Advantages of this approach include valuable early benefits – freeing up office space on its sites as paper storage starts to become less important. SWBH is also able to redeploy some of its admin staff who would have been tending all that paper.

To achieve this, SWBH decided on a very pragmatic Open Source approach. This brings advantages in terms of commitment – such freeware can be adopted on a zero-cost basis with a view to a bigger commitment when commercially viable. The Trust also wanted to only work with a supplier who had sold into the NHS, and so would understand its issues and not need any hand-holding.

The Alfresco content management system to manage digital content, implemented by SynApps, met those criteria, and SWBH was happy to start the records digitisation project with those partners.

The right decision

It’s early days at SWBH for this new way of working. “Although our case note scanning project was not without its difficulties, we are now at a stable state where digital documents are the norm and not the exception. It’s a good lead-in for our new EPR as staff are becoming more accustomed to digital case notes.”

“In terms of what clinicians do, the benefit is very marked – those 35,000 records move around electronically, not on trolleys, finally.”

In terms of addressing our information archives, Reynolds sees that as a longer-term project that can be progressed in partnership with the Trust’s records supplier. “We decided that the best use of our resources was on the new medical documentation and getting that digitised first – and I think our results show that this was the right approach.”

The author is Chief Informatics Officer at Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals (SWBH) NHS Trust